12 Oct Dragonmasters are Gone by Katie Cross
This scene was written long before the Dragonmaster Trilogy ever came into play. Before I started that trilogy for adults and young people, I knew the basics of what happened, but I explored the idea through scenes with Sanna and Bianca.
Sometimes I say that the Dragonmaster Trilogy was an accident—the story came to me as I wrote Bianca’s story through The Network Series, starting with Miss Mabel’s School for Girls.
It was scenes like this that made me realize they had their own story to tell. I’ve added a few small details (like Luteis’ name) that weren’t there before, but this scene is largely preserved from what I planned before the Dragonmaster Trilogy came to be.
For the record, Sanna and Isadora can be really bossy.
Letum Wood soared over the top of my head, a comforting dark web of branches, leaves, and unfathomable depth. I drew in a deep breath, loving the scent of life and decay that mingled, then let it out.
A few steps away stood a crotchety old woman, Michelle’s beau Bradley, and Merrick. Merrick glanced at me out of the corner of his eye every now and then, as if ready to open the full power of his smirk the moment I met his gaze.
“Well,” Sanna snapped, “Bradley’s a lot more fun than the lot of you are, anyway. Geez, Merrick. When did you lose your courage?”
“I’m not feeding those dragons.”
“Wuss. Go ahead and gut the dead creatures, Bradley. These don’t like the fur. New generation. Weak.”
Bradley grinned in a toothy way and headed for the creek with a bucket, a knife, and several small animals that Sanna had—apparently—trapped to feed to the dragons. Merrick and I watched him go. The dead critters swung from his burly hands as he walked. Sanna reached down, her knobby hands held onto a garish, odd set of burnt orange heartscales scales around her neck. I’d never seen her without the necklace.
“It’s nice to have someone else pull the liver and bowels out of the animals for me,” Sanna said. “I get really tired of feeding the baby dragons.”
My eyes widened.
“There are baby dragons?”
“Yes. The red just gave birth a few days ago.”
I recalled the red dragon with all too much clarity. She’d almost burned me to a crisp during the summer when I was running in the woods and ran straight into five dragons together. Fortunately Sanna had come to my aid and stopped them, but I hadn’t been sure for a while there that I would make it.
“Is that why the red was so surly?” I asked, incredulous. I’d pegged her for a grumpy male. My knowledge of dragons was so limited that it was almost impossible for me to tell the males from the females.
“You’d be grumpy too if you had to lay an egg.”
Merrick snorted. I elbowed him.
“It’s still not safe for you to approach her, Bianca. That’s why I didn’t offer.”
“I wasn’t offended.”
Sanna waved a hand through the air. “She doesn’t like you anyway, pregnant or not. Bradley is doing okay. She’s trusting him a little more near the wee ones.”
I gazed around the calm, wintry meadow. Ice chunks covered the stream along the rocks. Frost coated the edges. Most of the trees had shed all their leaves. They sat in the sky like a bunch of ugly, spiny fingers.
Bradley hunched over at the stream now, working quickly. In the background, an occasional low squawk and puff of smoke came from the trees. The forest dragons lingered inside—somewhere. They seemed to move, their dark scales blending into the background.
Merrick walked through the crunchy snow to help Bradley, pulling a knife from his belt that I didn’t even know was there. My forehead ruffled as I watched the two of them work, disconcerted by the attractive way Merrick’s shoulders pulled tight against his shirt.
“Sanna, how can Bradley be a Dragonmaster?” I asked. “He’s not related to you, is he?”
“Not directly. The Families scattered and left Letum Wood, marrying people outside our bloodlines and having babies. It’s all watered down now. But he’s got dragons in his blood somewhere. Why do you think he’s so obsessed with them? It’s natural. Well,” she muttered, “Some of us. My sister hates dragons, she always has. Besides, doesn’t matter. Dragonmasters are gone.”
A little edge crept into her tone I coudn’t read.
“And do they have names?”
“Of course they have names,” she cried.
“Not colors. Actual names.”
“What are they?”
“That’s none of your business,” she snapped.
“Is it a secret?”
“Only because they want it to be. It’s their names. They can tell you if they want you to know them.”
I stifled a sigh. How those two were sisters, I’d never understand.
Bradley and Merrick returned with a bucket full of entrails and several bloody furs. Merrick carried the furs and headed towards the back while Bradley veered off to the left, into the dark forest.
“Shall I go feed them?” he asked, pausing midstep.
“Yes,” Sanna called. “Just be careful. She almost burned all my hair off last time. Leave the meat and back away. The red will take care of it.”
When Bradley turned to go, I noticed that part of his hair was significantly shorter than the rest on one side, and a red burn mark across his ear had blistered and looked painful. But he smiled anyway, happy to go about his new business. He left through a trail that disappeared into the woods. The dragons surrounded Sanna’s cottage, but they always remained unseen, even in the winter.
“Come on,” Sanna muttered. “Might as well go inside where it’s warm. No Luteis here to warm me, or anything.”
She waved me in and I followed. Merrick returned from the creek, where he’d washed his hands, though a faint pink stain still lingered.
“Did you grow up in this cottage, Sanna?” I asked as I crossed inside. The simple space was little more than rectangle with servicable furniture. She didn’t own much, but it was all clean and neat, set in such a way that I imagined made it easier to find what she looked for. If I hadn’t known she was blind, I never would have guessed it.
“But you grew up in Letum Wood?”
“Who said?” Sanna asked, looking surprisingly haughty. I reared back in surprise.
“Where else would you have grown up?”
Only witches that had grown up under Letum Wood’s broad canopy were truly able to live with comfort underneath the great trees. All the rest of them were scared of it, and rightly so. Unless you knew how to avoid the dangers, you were bound to die from them, or be seriously hurt. Although I’d spent all of my childhood in Letum Wood, even I still didn’t know all her secrets and creatures.
“Perhaps we have our secrets as well,” she said with a little smile, and then grew serious. “There used to be more Dragonmasters than just my family. There were three Dragonmasters families. We all lived deep in Letum Wood. Outside of our small community, we really didn’t know a lot of other witches. At least I didn’t until I got much older, anyway. Then it all fell apart and I was the only one that remained in the forest, with the dragons, to stay.”
Her voice trailed off as Sanna dropped into a memory of another time and place. I wanted to ask her more, but held back when Merrick shook his head, then mouthed, I’ll tell you later.
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